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Has Turkey relinquished Gaza or simply bent before the rising tide of Israeli influence?

Did Erdogan, symbolically the only leader ready to stand up to Israeli arrogance, make a pragmatic U-turn in his country’s relations with Israel at the expense of the Palestinians?
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan holds a press conference during the 11th G20 Leaders' Summit in Hangzhou, China on September 05, 2016.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan holds a press conference during the 11th G20 Leaders' Summit in Hangzhou, China on September 05, 2016.

In the aftermath of Israel’s deadly raid on the Gaza-bound Freedom Flotilla in 2010, the then Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, addressed his nation passionately: “I’ll say it one more time. If everyone keeps silent and if the whole world turns its back on the Palestinians, Turkey won’t ever abandon Gaza.”

Last June, Israel and Turkey signed an agreement to reinstate political and diplomatic relations after six years of estrangement. A day before the formal announcement of the deal, Erdogan received Khaled Meshaal, the head of the Hamas Political Bureau, in Istanbul. It was a move that implies explicitly the Palestinian movement’s consent to the agreement normalising the strained relations between the two countries.

However, there was resentment prevalent among the Palestinians basically because the agreement didn’t meet their expectations. Even IHH, the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation, criticised the agreement, saying that it amounts to the approval and recognition of the Israeli blockade. Other Palestinians went too far and claimed that it was a stab in the back because they were entirely confident that Turkey’s conditions for rapprochement with Israel required the lifting of the siege of Gaza.

By virtue of the agreement, Turkey opened exclusive channels for its humanitarian assistance to the beleaguered enclave, enabling disenfranchised Palestinians to reconstruct their devastated homes and infrastructure. Two weeks after the proclamation of the agreement, a Turkish ship carrying humanitarian aid for the Gaza Strip docked in the Israeli port of Ashdod. Three months later, Turkey sent a second aid ship to Gaza.

However, the Palestinians in Gaza were expecting Turkey’s total commitment to break the siege completely; it has been imposed illegally for more than 10 years.

There is more dismay and frustration at the fact that this striking, though expected, normalisation is a blatant and possibly irretrievable violation of the successful Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. As a heavyweight Muslim country, Turkey’s move has dealt a sharp blow to the efforts of Palestinian academics and civil society activists in the battle to isolate and boycott Israel.

Palestinians are freedom-seekers and those in Gaza didn’t fight and die heroically to receive shipments of clothes and humanitarian aid, though these are needed desperately. The whole world, including Turkey, unequivocally believes that the Israeli blockade of Gaza is a flagrant violation of basic human rights and has to be lifted.

It’s expedient though to put the agreement in context so that the whole picture can be seen and the Turkish government’s attitude can be assessed objectively. After Israel killed nine Turkish nationals in the attack on the Freedom Flotilla (one more died of his wounds later), Turkey took some measures against Tel Aviv: it lowered the level of diplomatic relations; suspended military treaties; refused to recognise the Israeli blockade of Gaza; and lodged a complaint against Israel’s crime in the International Court of Justice.

President Erdogan also listed three prerequisites for the restoration of normal links: Israel’s written formal apology, compensation for victims and their families and the lifting of the siege on Gaza. The first two conditions were met when Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, apologised to Turkey in a phone call to Erdogan, and agreed to pay $20 million as compensation. However, the Gaza siege is still intact.

In return, according to Israeli reports, Turkey will use its leverage to help in the return of the bodies of two soldiers killed in Israel’s offensive against Gaza in 2014. Furthermore, Turkey will not allow Hamas to use its soil as a base of anti-Israel activities. In addition, both countries will abstain from any measures that weaken their interests in the international arena. Economically, the two states will jointly settle economic agreements to boost bilateral trade that was only marginally affected. Thus, natural gas from Israel will be exported via Turkey to European markets.

Did Erdogan, symbolically the only leader ready to stand up to Israeli arrogance, make a pragmatic U-turn in his country’s relations with Israel at the expense of the Palestinians?

It would be unfair to say such a thing, in that such an analysis would be discriminating simply because it lacks a holistic view and the multidimensional nature of the step. Turkey’s foreign policy trajectory has recently recorded remarkable successes in mending relations with regional adversaries, including Russia, and maybe the Egyptian regime. The ad hoc rapprochement has multi-lateral economic and diplomatic ramifications that fit the new Turkish strategy.

Some people deliberately forget the great and honourable attitude of Turkey towards the regional crises. Immediately after the Arab Spring brought winds of change to the Palestinian cause, Erdogan expressed his willingness to visit the Gaza Strip; if US President Barack Obama hadn’t stepped in to dissuade him from such a trip, it would have happened in 2013.

Turkey evaluates escalating threats and cannot turn a blind eye to them. Nevertheless, no one expects close military and intelligence cooperation between Ankara and Tel Aviv; this is no longer possible and Israel knows that.

It is no secret that the whole Middle East is in turmoil, throughout which Turkey’s leadership has proven repeatedly that it is standing on the side of humanity against injustice. Other allegedly democratic countries, meanwhile, prefer to stand and watch, if not actually conspire.

Around all of this the dire status of the United Nations stands out. It has lately recorded a scandalous perversion of its founding principles by rewarding Israel’s protracted occupation. Benjamin Netanyahu once accused UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of “encouraging terror” after the latter said that it was “human nature to react to occupation”. Ban was vehemently castigating Israel’s “stifling” occupation. He also called Israeli settlement expansion an “affront” to the world and yet, paradoxically, appointed Israel to head the UN’s legal system.

Recently, when Netanyahu criticised the whole UN system, delegates listened to his words with apparent joy, not least when he called UNESCO a “circus” and the Human Rights Council a “joke”. At the same time he declared his commitment to Israel as a Jewish state. Despite the racist undertone, his speech was received warmly by loud applause. The Egyptian, Jordanian, Iraqi, Kuwaiti and Palestinian delegations didn’t withdraw from the hall when he spoke; instead, they celebrated it rather too enthusiastically.

All UN legal bodies as well as the International Court of Justice have articulated that Israel is an occupying power in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Golan Heights. Accordingly, Israel openly violates the Geneva Conventions, although it doesn’t see it that way at all.

It’s pertinent to ask how the so-called international community works if it allows a pariah occupation state to head a legal committee. The UN’s notorious complicity with the occupying state shouldn’t actually be a surprise at all, though; the racist entity that is the state of Israel is the illegitimate mongrel of the international conspiracy of 1947, when the UN’s General Assembly adopted the partition plan for Palestine in Resolution 181.

As all of this pans out, it is also reasonable to ask if Turkey has given up on the Palestinians in Gaza, or simply bent before the rising tide of Israeli influence around the world.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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